“Healthism, simply put, is an overemphasis on keeping healthy. Social critic Robert Crawford believes that many persons today (particularly, he notes, the more affluent) are too focused on staying healthy. He suggests that people have become preoccupied with controlling the more manageable health factors like smoking or diet because they feel powerless to change major factors like financial uncertainty or potential nuclear disaster. When we are overly focused on healthiness or a “healthy lifestyle” as goals to strive for (or as the measure of a “healthy” society) we deflect attention from the more important goals of social justice and peace.

Crawford also points out that even though prevention is crucial, and dangerously glossed over by conventional medicine, it, too, can be overemphasized. In expanding the concept of prevention ever further, we risk defining more and more aspects of life in terms of health and illness–that is, according to a medical model. We may end up seeing exercise, eating, meditation, fresh air, dance, for example–all pleasures in their own right–simply as measures of our potential health or nonhealth. In this way, ironically, we further medicalize our lives.

Keeping healthy can also become a moral issue. Individuals are made to feel guilty for getting sick. People shake their heads disapprovingly over those who “don’t take care of themselves.” In many cases this amounts to blaming the victim; it shows a failure to recognize the social and economic influences on health habits and illness. With personal habits, too, a certain judgmentalness creeps in: “She should have more control over her smoking,” or “She should get more exercise, stop eating so much sugar.” Even when these are matters of personal choice, moralistic healthism is inappropriate. And it doesn’t help people change, even when they may want to.

~The New Our Bodies, Ourselves


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